Stephanie and I had the distinct pleasure of dining at The Katharine Brasserie and Bar last night, as guests of Chef Adam Barnett. This was a makeup date for me since I had missed the official blogger/media night to introduce him to the town due to another commitment. We met with Chef Adam and he was one of the most genuine, sweetest guys you’ll meet. Humble and passionate about his work, he was the consummate host for the night.
Sweet Corn Soup
Chef Adam Barnett (©Katharine)
I had mentioned in an earlier podcast/blog post that I felt a little dread when it came to his comments about “southern twist.” He even commented to me about that when we talked last night. I have to tell you, he set my mind at ease. First off, there was no pimento cheese to be found. That’s a major plus. I mean, I love pimento cheese but it has no place in French-influenced food, as far as I am concerned. The bottom line on Chef Adam is he’s a “good one.” Let’s talk food.
Chef Adam, Stephanie and I discussed what we would be doing as far as food and we decided that he would just bring us what he wanted us to try. I wanted him to showcase his talents and I am quite confident they were sufficiently demonstrated and abundantly so.
First off was the sweet corn soup. This bowl arrived with a brilliant, thick, yellow liquid with specks of red in the middle. It was this amazing Espelette pepper and heirloom tomato salpicón (“medley” in Spanish) resting in the center of the creamy soup. The soup tasted just like someone took corn from a cob, added some cream to it, pureed it and added a little touch of acidity to make it pop. It was creamy and delicious. It tasted as if the corn had been shucked a mere five minutes ago. I don’t know for sure but it could have been?
I had mentioned to Chef Adam that one of my favorite dishes ever was steak tartare. Then, we had to try his, he said. Chef Adam uses flat iron steak with an avocado mousse on top with a bit of pickled mustard seed on top to give an intermittent flavor burst of earthiness. It was a little strange with the first bite; a little bitter, actually, but it certainly came through with a pop of acid once you knew what you were getting. The beef was tender and seasoned well. The avocado mousse was light and delicious. The components combined were like a chopped-meat masterpiece. I will go on record to say that this rivals at least one of the tartare dishes I had in Paris on our honeymoon, possibly two.
Shrimp & Grits
Up next was the shrimp and grits. The grits were creamy and light (no hard bits) with large chunks of shrimp, spicy sausage, a perfect mix of herbs and spices and soft, but brilliantly flavored red bell pepper. All of these flavors and textures rested beautifully together in a bowl. I will say that the shrimp and grits dish at Katharine Brasserie and Bar is probably the best I’ve ever had. I used to say that about a food truck. Now, it’s here. This is a must try for any fan of shrimp and grits or anyone who is a fan of good food.
Chef Adam wanted us to try the Lobster Gnocchi and that’s what we got next. A mixture of Maitake mushrooms, chunks of lobster meat, sweet corn, swiss chard and a creamy, tangy lemon hollandaise sauce. The Maitakes were scored and chewy. I’m not usually a mushroom fan, but these were really good. The gnocchi was large and fluffy and it all worked together in a light, yet succulent dish. A lot of flavor in that dish, that’s for sure.
Cotelette de Porc
Next came a very large and generous slab of pork, seasoned and grilled to perfection on a bed of Pomme Purée (basically, whipped potatoes) with a large fried onion ring, broccoli rabe (which I mistook for broccolini, something that I feel is a common occurrence) and a moat of smoked ham hock jus. If it were just the pork and not all the accouterments, this would have still been perfect. The tomatoey sauce, the broccoli rabe and those potatoes and it jumped from “all business” to a straight “food party.” But, the pork was delicious enough to stand on its own. It was cooked to a great medium temperature and it was still a bit tender (somewhat floppy or flimsy – not a bad thing) and not stiff like a lot of overcooked pork chops tend to be. This Cotelette De Porc was really delicious.
We really didn’t need more food, but you can’t turn down dessert, right? Right. Stephanie had the apple tart and I had the Plum Clafoutis. I was pretty food drunk by that time and can only say that the desserts were tasty. I could taste the plums in the clafoutis and Stephanie let me taste the tart. Both were good, but being I’m not a big dessert person, I can, again, only say that they were good and tasty. If you’re a dessert person, then you will enjoy their offerings.
Our server, John, was good with the drink recommendations. Actually, it was “bring me something” instead of picking something out myself. I picked the first one, the “Bacon-Maple Old Fashioned.” From there, he picked the subsequent “Viceroy,” “Gin Rickey” and “Smoked Manhattan” for me. Their bar staff knows their drinks. So, yes, John was great with the drinks but also as a server.
I asked Chef Adam about his thoughts on the “farm to table” program that the area restaurants are lucky enough to enjoy. He said that he is big into that and anything he can get from local farmers, reasonably, he does. I told him that we’re all “slave to the truck” to some degree and he agreed. But, local ingredients are what goes into the food at The Katharine. Chef Adam said, also, that he was working on some modifications and tweaks to the menu, but doesn’t want to get too far out there. People get used to a certain menu and want their favorites, but he has room to maneuver some rotating items, as well. Makes me excited for that.
So, the bottom line for me on the Katharine Brasserie and Bar is that I think Winston-Salem got its groove back. We had a gem, almost lost it and have found it again. The French-inspired food that Chef Adam brings to the table is worthy of the hype that the restaurant once had after it opened. The difference is now they have much promise to be great and much potential to grow as an establishment. I’m not going to knock the previous EC, but Chef Adam is the real deal. His kitchen staff, his sous and line cooks are amazing and they listen. Not a single piece of food that came to us was anything short of delicious. Chef Adam added to and modified an already elegant idea and location. Only it is better now that it has ever been. Kudos Chef and merci beaucoup!
If there was any one thing that I would change it would be that it is still quite loud in there. We actually witnessed a party move because of the noise factor. I admit my hearing isn’t the best but, sitting right beside Stephanie, I could barely hear her talking, but could hear all the other folks in the restaurant. But, that’s neither here nor there, just an observation.
You can try The Katharine Brasserie and Bar for yourself. Don’t just take my word for it. They are located in the old RJR building, what is now the Residences at RJR and Kimpton Cardinal Hotel, all located at 401 N. Main Street in Winston-Salem. I’d rate it a solid A.